WOLVERHAMPTON CIVIC HALL
ON THE day that Richard Ashcroft announced the demise of The Verve, Gruff Rhys, the vocalist from the Super Furry Animals, appeared to be limbering up as his successor. While Rhys may not have The Verve front man's hollow cheeks or emaciated frame, his air of wistful intensity was unadulterated Ashcroft. He was also in possession of a commanding stage presence. The other members of the band could have been hired session musicians as they lurked in the shadows, allowing the singer to bask in the spotlight.
Super Furry Animals form part of the wave of Welsh bands who have raised the cultural profile of Wales over the past few years, transforming Cardiff into a mecca for chequebook-wielding A&Rs. But to lump the Super Furries alongside their Celtic contemporaries, Catatonia, Stereophonics, 60-ft Dolls, is to do little justice to their smart, psychedelic rock and the invention of their live shows.
Television screens flickered across the stage as if the band had stumbled across a Gilliamesque vision of the future. Kaleidoscopic patterns from the monitors were reflected on the singer's pallid face, adding to his enervated appearance. As they scrolled through the old classics, "Bad Behaviour", "God Show Me Magic" and "Fire In My Heart", the band's trademark whimsy took on a tragic tone as the pace remained slow and Rhys's voice was stretched to cracking point.
The band's early days as a techno outfit were still apparent as synthesised special effects bubbled to the surface between the verses. The arrival of a pair of trumpeters dressed as policemen also harked back to the band's old cartoon aesthetic, though laughter was immediately quelled by a glance at the singer's sombre demeanour. Even as he launched into their new single "Northern Lites", an exotic Beach Boys-style anthem, Rhys seemed unable to throw himself into the carnival atmosphere.
As kindergarten gimmicks were replaced by an austere future-aesthetic, and happy-clappy numbers were presented as rock songs, it seemed that the Super Furries were striving to transcend their theme park status and become a serious rock band. A sure legacy from The Verve.
A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper